By BRENDAN BROSH, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Hillary Clinton isn't the only New Yorker who made waves in New Hampshire. Ciaran Staunton (right), a Sunnyside activist, made national news last weekend when he challenged presidential hopeful Mitt Romney about his immigration policies and accused the former Massachusetts governor of turning his back on immigrants.
"As governor of Massachusetts he was generous in funding immigration centers," said Staunton, 44, the vice president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. "Now he's done an about-face in his immigration policies."
Staunton sat in the front row of an "Ask Mitt Anything" meeting in Derry, N.H., on Saturday.
Introducing himself as a member of the Irish community, Staunton praised Romney's immigration record as a governor, then accused him of changing his stance to woo GOP voters.
"When you sit down tonight, Gov. Romney, will you do me a favor, please remember that they are human," Staunton said of the more than 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants thought to be in the U.S.
"I feel, Gov. Romney, that you've turned your back on God's creatures," said Staunton, who was then roundly jeered by Romney supporters.
"I love legal immigration," Romney said in response. "But I want to end illegal immigration. ... They should get in line if they want to become a citizen."
Romney has come out in favor of border fences and biometric ID cards, and he made it legal for Massachusetts police officers to ask people about their immigration status. He also opposes any form of amnesty for immigrants.
"It's sad to see a politician grandstanding on bigotry," said Staunton's brother-in-law, Niall O'Dowd, publisher of the Irish Voice. He was sitting next to Staunton at the meeting. "The demonizing of undocumented people is the worst I've seen in 30 years."
Staunton moved to the U.S. from Westport, County Mayo, in 1982 and now owns O'Neills Irish Bar in midtown Manhattan.
He said that more than 40 million Americans claim Irish heritage and that in 2005 only 76 diversity visas were awarded to Irish citizens.
Members of Staunton's group regularly travel to Washington to lobby elected officials for easing restrictions on immigration.
"There's a lot of anti-immigrant hysteria in this country," Staunton said of his reason for trekking to the Granite State to hobnob with presidential hopefuls. "It's modern-day McCarthyism."